José Olivarez


Poet. Educator. Performer



José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants and the author of the book of poems, Citizen Illegal. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods and a recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo, Poets House, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, & the Conversation Literary Festival. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association. He lives in Chicago.

José is a master teaching artist. As part of his #GenteficationWorldTour, he visited 20 different states in the fall of 2018 in support of his debut book, Citizen Illegal. He has taught poetry workshops and performed at community organizations, high schools, book fairs, and universities all over the country including the Adirondack Center for Writing, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of New York, The National Museum of Mexican Art, Arizona State University, and The Miami Book Fair among many others. He is a part of of Costura Creative, a Latinx owned & operated talent agency representing contemporary poets & writers for speaking engagements, readings, workshops, multi-disciplinary collaborations & more.



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Citizen Illegal

In this stunning debut, poet José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. Olivarez has a unique voice that makes him a poet to watch.

Critical Acclaim

"Jose Olivarez’s indispensable debut poetry collection, “Citizen Illegal,” is a boisterous, empathetic, funny-yet-serious (but not self-serious) celebratory ode to Chicanx life in the contemporary United States."

-Kathleen Rooney, The Chicago Tribune

"It seems clear that Olivarez wrote from every part of himself to build this incredible book. He uses the tools of his craft to create a sanctuary for others, and to present alternative realities that might finally serve, rather than pillage from, brown and black people."

-Frank Johnson, The Rumpus

“José Olivarez’s debut poetry collection, Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books, 2018), is a poetic assault on these state and cultural processes that continue to stamp out empathy and humanity within the rise of today’s migratory drift and its management by the state.”

-Chris Campanioni, The Brooklyn Rail

“Citizen Illegal acts as an oasis for acceptance and resistance—an ode of gratitude for in-between spaces.”

-The Arkansas International

Citizen Illegal is not only a commentary on timely and complicated  issues of race, immigration, and ethnicity, but also a celebration, a journey toward a self and a family identity that is grounded not merely in geography but in the veined map of the heart.”

-Donna Vorreyer, Rhino Reviews

What does being a citizen really mean, living in a brown body? And even if you do adopt more Westernized practices, how does that change how brown bodies are viewed in a white society? Olivarez exposes and dismantles these constructions slowly throughout his chapbook, brick by brick. With a searing precision, he takes aim at the American paradigm and how “folding” oneself to fit into it is fruitless.

-Arielle Gray, Afropunk

“This collection is for those of us who are still seeking an identity but are also very aware of what it is. It’s for those of us who don’t see a difference between being a citizen and an “illegal” because we are a mixture of both. His poems are filled with wit and have absolute relevance in today’s political climate.”

-Angie Flores, The Gate Newspaper



The Breakbeat Poets

Hip-Hop is the largest youth culture in the history of the planet rock. This is the first poetry anthology by and for the Hip-Hop generation.

It has produced generations of artists who have revolutionized their genre(s) by applying the aesthetic innovations of the culture. The BreakBeat Poets features 78 poets, born somewhere between 1961-1999, All-City and Coast-to-Coast, who are creating the next and now movement(s) in American letters. 

The BreakBeat Poets is for people who love Hip-Hop, for fans of the culture, for people who've never read a poem, for people who thought poems were only something done by dead white dudes who got lost in a forest, and for poetry heads. This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for.

The BreakBeat Poets are the scribes recording and remixing a fuller spectrum of experience of what it means to be alive in this moment. The BreakBeat Poets are a break with the past and an honoring of the tradition(s), an undeniable body expanding the canon for the fresher.

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Home Court

This jam-packed dynamic-duo debut collection explores what it means to grow up loving basketball, playing it watching it, thinking about it -- and how the relationship between men and games/sports informs masculine identity in American culture.  Whether it's watching ballers from different races square off for dominance of the court or the imperative of playing through the pain of a jammed finger, Ben and Jose go deep into how they grew into the men they've become and how they feel about evolutions still in the future.

Fall 2018

  • Thursday, 9/13/18: Citizen Illegal Book Release Party with:Nate Marshall, KAINA & Sen Morimoto, Victoria Chavez Peralta, Luis Carranza, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, Eloisa Amezcua, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jus Love, Defcee, and Kevin Coval. Sounds by DJ Ca$h Era. Merch to purchase by Mercedes Zapata and Sentrock. @ National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W 19th St (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Friday, 9/14/18: Niles West (Skokie, Illinois)

  • Wednesday, 9/19/18: Citizen Illegal Book Signing hosted by The Gate News (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Thursday, 9/27/18: Lewis University Reading with Nate Marshall (Romeoville, Illinois)

  • Wednesday, 10/3/18: A/V Exchange @ House of Blues (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Thursday, 10/4/18: Si Se Puede Conference @ Lewis University (Romeoville, Illinois)

  • Friday, 10/5/18: Women & Children First with Britteney Black Rose Kapri (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Tuesday & Thursday, 10/9/18 & 10/11/18: Little Village and Lawndale High School (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Thursday, 10/11/18: Wisconsin Book Festival (Madison, Wisconsin)

  • Friday-Sunday, 10/12/18-10/14/18: Southern Festival of Books (Nashville, Tennessee)

  • Wednesday, 10/17/18: Westinghouse College Prep (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Friday, 10/19/18: Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, Indiana)

  • Saturday, 10/20/18: Lit And Luz Festival @ The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Sunday, 10/21/18: Danny’s Sunday Series with Emily Yungmin Joon & Tim Kinsella @ 1951 W Dickens Ave (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Wednesday, 10/24/18: Irvington Vinyl & Books (Indianapolis, Indiana)

  • Sunday, 10/28/18: Barbara Ballinger Lecture @ Oak Park Public Library (Oak Park, Illinois)

  • Monday-Wednesday, 10/29/18-10/31/18: Arizona State University (Tempe, Arizona)

  • Saturday, 11/3/18: Chicago Humanities Festival with Jessica Hopper (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Tuesday, 11/6/18: Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Thursday, 11/8/18: Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)

  • Tuesday, 11/13/18: Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Wednesday, 11/14/18: College of Lake County (Grayslake, Illinois)

  • Saturday & Sunday, 11/17/18-11/18/18: Miami Book Fair (Miami, Florida)

Bring José to your Campus/ Org/ School


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